Graduate students in the Department of Plant Pathology have an active outreach group. In addition to participating in large outreach events like Bugfest and Triangle SciTech Expo at the Museum of Natural Sciences, they also visit local high schools to spread the word about how plant pathologists use biotechnology to manage plant pests. On April 4, 2014 they visited three of Mrs. Eckenrod’s sophomore biology classes at Princeton High School in Eastern North Carolina. Students performed DNA extractions from strawberry tissue, looked at fungal spores under a microscope, learned the basics of fungal isolation and culture maintenance, and learned how to transform geranium plants with agrobacterium. This outreach program aims to teach and inform the general public about plant pathology and current issues in world food production.
Plant diseases caused by Phytophthora species present major limitations to food security in the developing world. Late blight on potato caused by Phytophthora infestans caused the Irish famine, and Phytophthora species also limit production of cacao, taro and horticultural crops. Phytophthora is easily spread through international trade of plant materials and via airborne spores. Since plant pathogens do not carry passports nor recognize national borders, having a network of well-trained network of plant diagnosticians around the world benefits agriculture in the United States and abroad.
The international team led a diagnostic workshop in Honduras attended by 21 plant disease diagnosticians from six Latin American countries. Technologies for conducting rapid and accurate diagnostic assays for Phytophthora in plant and water samples under real-world working conditions were taught over four lab-intensive days. Students learned basic pure culture methods for isolating Phytophthora, morphological identification techniques, and state-of-the-art molecular diagnostics assays including PCR, ELISA and DNA sequences to identify species. The workshop was held at Zamorano University, which also hosts the Horticulture Innovation Lab Regional Center.
This was the second in a series of plant disease diagnostic workshops held in Latin America. The first workshop, also funded by USAID through the Horticulture Innovation Lab, was held in June 2010 and formed the basis of the Latin American Phytophthora Diagnostic Network,a network of well-trained plant disease diagnosticians throughout the region. Further workshops are planned for Southeast Asia and Africa.
With funding from USAID, the Horticulture Innovation Lab builds international partnerships—like this one between NC State plant pathologists and Latin American scientists—for fruit and vegetable research to improve livelihoods in developing countries.
The Department of Plant Pathology held its fifth annual “Exploring Fungi” workshop for high school biology teachers on August 5-7, 2013 at North Carolina State University. Teachers from Harnett, Mecklenburg, Granville, Franklin and Wake counties in North Carolina were joined by undergraduate students and a professor from Middle Georgia State University in a program designed to encourage high school students to investigate concepts in the biology curriculum using fungi as model organisms. The three-day workshop focused on laboratory activities that illustrated elements in the North Carolina Standard Course of Study using fungi. Outdoor environmental activities that increased student awareness of the importance of fungi in ecosystem function, especially nutrient cycling, and the relative importance of science literacy and potential of citizen science in the high school curriculum, were also conducted. The teachers and undergraduate students also had an opportunity to interact with scientists at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. This program has been made possible through the continued and generous support from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and National Science Foundation (submitted by Caroline S. Vernia and Marc A. Cubeta).